In which… well, you’ll see.

This is the first morning I woke up and didn’t know where I was. Thankfully a few moments’ reflection brought it all back. I was really starting to get tired by now. Not road weary – just physically tense and a bit ragged from all the late nights I’d been keeping.

Just a typical gorgeous tree-lined avenue in gorgeous downtown Charleston

It is interesting to note how just four days into my trip, I was mentally constructing a calendar based on where I was going rather than days of the week. “I’m going to Orlando, so it must be Day 4. Which is… (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) Thursday. Okay.”

Wait a sec – Orlando??? What was I thinking? There’s no way I can drive all the way through Georgia, part of Florida and arrive in Orlando by nightfall and still remain in my right mind.

I was torn. But in the end Charleston won out and after misleading myself yet again (easily adding an hour to my drive time for the day… grrr), I finally found it!

Palm trees!

Having suffered through a devastating earthquake, two wars, and innumerable hurricanes, Charleston has rebuilt and restored itself many times, yet it remains one of the South’s most beautiful cities. Impressive neoclassical buildings line the streets, especially in the older, upmarket sections of town south of Broad Street and along the waterfront Battery. Charleston’s many small, lush gardens and parks make it ideal for aimless exploring on foot rather than by car.
(from Road Trip USA,

Gotta say, I do like the look of palm trees in the city. What a charming place this is! I stumbled across a lovely tree-lined walk bedecked with a garden that featured a fountain in the middle. A plaque on the sidewalk informed me that this is ‘Wragg Mall’, dedicated by Mr. Wragg to the people of Charleston in 1801.

I hope he didn’t mind my enjoying it too.

Wragg Mall

Wandering the quiet residential streets, I eagerly absorbed the unique (and probably really expensive) homes, basking in the breezy humidity. I believe I was experiencing that ‘glistening’ which southern women do. And it was only 10:30 in the morning!

Charleston has that rugged elegant look, like it’s seen a thing or two. And lived to tell about it! I drove down to the battery and beheld even greater glory and grace. There on the one side was a prospering body of water and majestic, imposing yet inviting mansions on the other. I just looked and looked, grateful to be one of the few cars on the road and no need to hurry past.

Charleston battery

I didn’t see anything in Charleston I didn’t like. Even when I missed 17 and drove into the other side of town, featuring much less grand but still interesting houses. I wish I’d had more time to explore, but this is definitely a place to come back to.

Southward to Georgia. I had to pass a visit to Savannah, although now I wish I had at least driven through it. However, the US-17 route through Georgia offered a smooth pass-through on many intriguing towns, most of which featuring a stoplight or two, a restaurant (the one I tried to visit had already closed at 2), a few homes, a mechanic, and possibly a motel, including one that had clearly been closed for business longer than I’ve been alive, but still seemed to be home to a few folks. The juxtaposition of grand houses and historic plantations with short single-level houses and trailer parks was a consistent theme along the main highway.

Georgia wildflowers

With no traffic to speak of, I crossed the border to Florida late in the afternoon. The sunshine state was experiencing a steady downpour, but when I sought highway A1A and the ocean suddenly rose before me, I liked the gray and misty appearance. It formed a nice contrast with the placid waters of the Carolinas. You could barely tell where the stormy sea ended and the stormy sky began.

Adorably quirky houses lined the beach, but I was allowed a peek at the water here and there before highway 9 took me on the roller coaster bridges that got me around Jacksonville. Whew! My heart started thumping just at the sight.

An irrational fear that I would flip over backwards kept me gunning for the high point of each one. But once I’d crested the upward angle, the magnificent view over the side! It was worth the near heart attack. And then I was glad to be alive, which made everything feel better from sheer relief.

I wonder what manner of men these early explorers must have been, striking out into unmarked territory with no certainty of provision and much certainty of danger! And then those that came behind them engineering and building so that I can come along and do my exploring in safety and ease.

No doubt this trip would’ve been harder if I’d had to row across all the waterways.

These explorations of mine are nothing new from a global or historic perspective. Type in ‘Florida’ on Google Earth and you can find a map and detailed satellite photo. This is far from undiscovered country in that sense of the word. But it is full of new discoveries for me, and I’m so grateful I’ve had the chance to make them.

Day 4 stats:
Miles: 494!
Things that make you go “yay”: 6
Freak-out moments: 2
Chapters: A lot – I think I was a little over halfway through all 59 of them by the time I reached Orlando

Next stop… Key West!

South… west?

In which things don’t go according to plan.

I was trying to stay away from making plans on this trip, because that was kind of the point of the trip itself. Just go – don’t think about the going any more than is absolutely necessary, just get out there and see what you see. But I did want some coffee.

Sourthern NORTH Carolina

Heading east of Havelock, I had visions of a quaint little shop on the boardwalk where I could sit on the beach and sip some liquid refreshment while the seagulls terrorize sea life and small children. I got a little misdirected trying to return to my route (West? Shouldn’t that be East?), so the sun was rather high in the sky by the time I saw signs for Atlantic Beach.

It came out blurry, but the sign says ‘Welcome to Atlantic Beach’

Atlantic Beach is one of the first beach opportunities you come to south of the Outer Banks. It’s a quick bridge crossing from highway 24 (heading West, which is kind of a strange concept, but take a look at the map… North Carolina dips in at that point, so the coast is almost doubling back). It is a tiny place with a tiny boardwalk surrounded by a spa and two or three eateries, none of which served coffee, and none of them open for business even if they had.

I walked the boardwalk – twice – greeted the friendly hangers about, admired the clump of houses hugging the shoreline and drove on.

It was after noon by the time I despaired of my seaside breakfast plans and settled for finding somewhere quick with good coffee. I passed several fast food places before pulling into a McDonald’s and then pulling back out as it was still under construction.

Perhaps I was making too big a deal of this, but prolonged hunger, fatigue, and stiffness were taking all the fun out of this day. I looked to the heavens and pled for mercy. Mercy answered in the form of the Java Bean.

Occupying the end of a strip mall across the street, the flow in and out of happy customers indicated two things: they had good stuff, and they were open. I got an iced coffee to go and took a seat outside. After an hour with my coffee, my journal and a seaworthy breeze, I was feeling adventurous again.

Ocean Isle Beach was my next intended destination, right at the bottom of North Carolina. I was surprised to again find indifferent shops, a few places to eat, and lots of beach houses. These I drove by for awhile, not finding any to be particularly spectacular, but different enough from each other that they were interesting for awhile.

Overcast in the afternoon – I’m noticing a pattern here

I bought a few postcards, managed to track down the lone public bathroom (sans stall doors or TP) and settled on the sand and wrote home to friends.

The beach itself was delightful, brimming with shells  and seaweed with a high dune of sand rimming the tide. Here I sat after taking the necessary walk on the beach. By the time I’d finished writing, it was nearly 5pm and I realized the mail would not go out until tomorrow (Thursday). Oh well.

South Carolina! Here I finally started seeing palm trees. I immediately hit the Myrtle Beach area, and with it miles and miles of off-shore entertainment. This was amusing, in contrast with all the sober stretches of lonely road I was about to traverse.

Thank goodness I filled up on gas! Having passed through Georgetown and then heading toward Charleston, US-17 took me through about 50 miles of quiet, nearly undisturbed country. As dark fell, I found myself to be driving the only car on the road, a realization that both concerned and comforted me.

One thing I figured out as Day 3 was nearing a close – road tripping is more fun in daylight. When you can see what’s happening around you, it’s exciting. When it’s dark, you’re just driving. It gets dull. Thankfully, I had my Great Expectations going by now, and Pip and Estella kept my brain engaged until I could reach my watering hole for the night.

Civilization snuck up on me and I quickly found my exit to 526, which lifted me into the air over large bodies of water which I couldn’t properly make out in the dark. But there were lots of lights below which I assigned to ships and boats and all kinds of watery engineering. Finally I reached my hotel in North Charleston and lugged my suitcase and myself into the Red Roof Inn.

So, so tired.

Day 3 stats:
Miles covered: 300
Coffees consumed: 1
Beaches: 2
Friendly strangers: 4
Chapters: 15
Next stop… REALLY Charleston!